A few weeks ago I had a wonderful lunch appointment with a fantastic young couple. They don’t attend our church and aren’t planning to, but we were thankful to spend time together. During the course of the conversation we were sharing our stories—our journey of faith and growth in local church life.
At one point, I looked at the young husband and said, “What was your ‘church experience’ growing up?” To give my question a context, both of these adults grew up in what claimed to be “Bible-believing” churches. All four of us have seen some unhealthy models of church life, pastoral leadership, and unbiblical pulpit ministry.
His answer broke my heart. He paused, thought for a moment, and then responded…
“In a word… negative.”
I indicated that I wanted him to continue explaining, which he did—something like this…
“Nearly every time I went to church it was to hear how horribly bad I was and how angry God was. It was an experience of angry preaching, no encouragement, and no real caring relationships. On top of that, to see sin covered up, hypocrisy, judgmental spirits… to be honest, it’s been very hard for me to get past…”
In that moment I felt so badly for this young man. This is a guy with more potential than he realizes. He has a fantastic heart. He has unbelievable strengths and intelligence. He is gracious, kind, and loving. He and his wife have the hearts of true Christians.
I immediately thought through my church experiences over the past 36 years. I was blessed. The majority of those years were in churches that were very healthy. There was balanced, biblical preaching. There was a pastor of integrity who served faithfully, didn’t cover sin, didn’t misuse money, didn’t abuse authority, didn’t lead with manipulative tactics, didn’t throw temper tantrums, didn’t beat people up publicly. I was blessed!
But this young man’s experiences were the polar opposite. In his approximate 30 years of life, he has yet to see a healthy church with biblical balance and a Christ-like Spirit of grace.
Sadly, I’ve heard this story FAR too often. It may not be common with you… but it is VERY common. There is a generation of Christians that are discouraged. They are bruised. They’ve been handed a warped, man-centered, skewed version of Christianity—and over time, they became beat-up and discouraged by it. The “bruised generation” loves Jesus and believes His Word, but they’ve been disappointed by fleshly models of spiritual leadership.
I personally believe the bruised generation is RIPE for a revival of real relationship with God—walking with Him and helping others know Him intimately. I believe they are ready to produce healthy church life for another generation!
How can we, as pastors and spiritual leaders, minister to this “bruised generation?” Here are seven thoughts that come to mind if we’re going to see the “bruised generation” come back to the Lord and His body…
1. Let’s not beat up on Jesus’ sheep. I don’t know the details of this young man’s experiences, but I know the attitudes and personality-type that create them. It’s not a shepherding attitude. It’s not an attitude of acceptance. It’s a kingly attitude. It’s a controlling attitude. Sovereign and subjects rather than shepherd and sheep. Fear rather than grace. If you are a spiritual leader or pastor, you are NOT a Sovereign. You are a servant. And they’re not even YOUR sheep. You serve the good shepherd. Don’t beat up His heritage. (See 1 Peter 5:3) The sovereign and subjects mentality of ministry needs to die. We need a revival of shepherd and sheep relationships. With the bruised generation, you MUST begin by accepting them exactly as they are, where they are—with their baggage. After all, Jesus accepted you with yours.
2. Let’s get real about who we are. There was a generation that believed and taught a kind of pastoral, “power-trippy-ness” that, frankly, isn’t in scripture. Spiritual leaders are commanded to be clothed in humility—a realistic perspective of who we are, who Jesus is, and what our calling is—a call to serve and lead with grace. Young Christians are repelled and repulsed by arrogant, abrasive, angry, and disrespectful spiritual authority. And they should be. We all should be. We ALL need grace. We ALL are undeserving. We ALL fall short. Let’s not pretend otherwise. There’s a difference between healthy, biblical authority, and fleshly authoritarianism. Only God’s Spirit can produce the first, and it will always be expressed with humility and grace.
3. Let’s use the pulpit biblically. I’ve seen men throw fleshly temper tantrums while standing in the pulpit. They take frustration out on people who should be living differently. They take financial pressure out on a people who are trying to be faithful. They take political power-struggles to the pulpit. They use the pulpit for thinly veiled confrontations of people sitting in the pews (rather than going personally and privately to those people.) They use the pulpit for manipulation—guilt, shame, crisis, “feel-sorry-for-me” games. They use the pulpit to shoot from the hip on whatever personal issues are irritating them in the moment. They use the pulpit to promote personal preferences and traditions as though they were commandments of God. To a thinking, discerning, “Berean” Christian—a Christian who is hungry for the WORD—all of this is repulsive. It’s a misuse of a sacred responsibility. And in the end, the single thing that should be happening, isn’t—the flock of God isn’t being FED! Disciples aren’t being developed.
4. Let’s use the Word faithfully. Thinking people know when a preacher is misusing, misappropriating, and misapplying scripture. It’s tragic when a spiritual leader tries to make the Bible say what it doesn’t say. It’s tragic because the Word is powerful for what it says! When God’s people truly hear what it says, lives are transformed. Shotgun preaching or teaching that rips scripture from context is dangerous. The habit of making the Bible say what it doesn’t say, or not allowing to say what it does, is massively presumptuous—it over-estimates self and under-estimates God. Mature and secure leaders let the Bible speak for itself. Leader, let it be. If it’s clear, say it clearly. It’s ambiguous or gray, say so. Where you aren’t sure—say so. Intelligent Christians don’t play games. They know when God’s Word is being misused or stretched. There are two ways you can try to develop people—first, you can trust your own power and badger them through your flesh. This doesn’t work. It humiliates people into behavior modification, but it doesn’t humble them toward grace transformation. Second, you can trust the power of the living Word, and preach and teach it clearly, practically, accurately, and truthfully. Only the Word produces lasting life-change.
5. Let’s believe in individual soul liberty and priesthood of the believer. Spiritual leaders can make the mistake of trying to be another person’s conscience. I wrote about that here. God didn’t give me control of another’s decisions or preferences. He simply gave me influence through His Word and through loving relationships. The sheep don’t account to me, they account to God—and I account to God for how I loved and cared for their souls. If they disagree with my preference or personal standard, I’m not to reject them. I’m to accept them, love them, comfort them, encourage them, and feed them. I’m especially NOT to despise them, Lord over them, or beat them up. As a pastor, I’m not another person’s decision-maker. And if I try to be, I will only sow seeds of eventual resentment in their heart. If I can’t persuade and influence them to my position, I am to still love them as Jesus does, and I’m to allow them the liberty that Christ gave them as they directly account to HIM.
6. Let’s love and lead by influence and example. When I see someone living in a way that hurts them or living in a way that limits God’s reality and blessing in their lives, I have two potential responses—anger or sorrow. My flesh wants to take it personally and get angry. My spirit hurts for them and becomes burdened. The spiritual response is not wrath or personal frustration. The spiritual response asks, “how can I love that person? What can I teach them? How can I show them a different example? How can I help them see who they are in Christ? How can I help them love God enough to forsake their sin? How can I gently unmask Satan’s lies in their heart? How can my life make a difference in theirs?” These are healthy questions. They focus not the control of another, but rather influence toward another—and only unconditional love and acceptance will produce an environment or culture where I may be able to influence someone else.
7. Let’s believe in authentic relationships and friendship once again. The “big shot” mentality of some ministry models really stinks. It’s phony. It’s fake. It’s aloof, untouchable, and unbiblical. Pastors and spiritual leaders are just as broken as the people they lead. We’re all a mess. We’re all struggling to walk in love with Jesus and toward each other. And we all need each other! What the “bruised generation” needs is not another “big shot”. The “bruised generation” needs a friend. They need someone to show them Jesus up close. Think Paul and Timothy, “thou hast fully known my… manner of life…” Think praying together, laughing together, weeping together. This is a spiritual leader that isn’t afraid to “be known.” This is a spiritual leader that isn’t afraid to have friends and to show an imperfect but passionate Christian walk. This is a spiritual leader that isn’t trying to project an untouchable Christian walk. This is a spiritual leader that sometimes forgets to pray, sometimes oversleeps, sometimes has family fights, sometimes jumps to conclusions, sometimes focuses on self, sometimes wrestles with pride, sometimes has to apologize. This is spiritual leadership that is sometimes wrong and must repent, apologize, and make things right. (…pause… shudder… gasp… hold for lighting strike.)
The bruised generation needs real friendships with spiritual leaders who model authenticity—struggling spirituality, inconsistent consistency, regular repentance, and steadfast love for Jesus through it all.
There’s a generation of young adults out there that were raised on dogmatic declaration of good doctrine (good stuff) mixed with a lot of negative, abrasive, and angry-spirited delivery and personality (bad stuff). They haven’t rejected the faith, but they do reject the attitude. They reject the culture, not the doctrine. It’s not a doctrinal thing. It’s a behavioral, attitudinal thing. They take issue with a style of leadership that was, in some ways, hurtful towards them and disconnected from them. They know this leadership style isn’t like Jesus. They read the gospels. They know who Jesus was and how He treated people. Jesus was touchable, approachable, down-to-earth (literally). He invites us to call Him by first name. He hung out with very messy people. He revealed a Heavenly Father of extravagant love. The “bruised generation” just wants to see Him in His body and in pastoral leadership. They should.
Love the bruised generation. For the most part, they aren’t rebellious. Some are. Some were. Most are just disappointed to the point of disbelief. They’ve had the spiritual wind knocked out of their gut—and they desperately want it back! When they are touched with real love and grace, they respond—hesitantly at first, but they respond none-the-less. It’s exciting to see them emerge from their bruised experiences into the fresh light of love and grace.
One final thought. The bruised generation make great Christians and great churches—because they cherish grace, they give grace, and they still know that grace is truly AMAZING!